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What Does Surfboard Wax Do?

   July 10th, 2022   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

What Does Surfboard Wax Do?

With all the thrills of surfing, the importance of having the proper surfboard wax is easily overlooked. There are many surfers out there who do not know the answer to the question what does surfboard wax do? Of course, we know the short answer, but the long answer is actually quite in-depth and interesting. 

We are going to answer a lot of questions below like what exactly is surfboard wax? What does wax do for a surfboard? How is it made? What are the different types of wax? And a few others.

The Purpose

I know this is pretty elementary, but we need to start with defining the purpose and quickly answering the question ‘what does surfboard wax do?’. Surf wax is a sticky substance that provides grip on a surfboard when you are standing up or paddling.

Most surfboards are made of hard fiberglass which is very smooth and provides no grip. Without the use of wax, your feet or body would slide right off. Wax provides traction for your feet and body and without that traction, surfing would be close to impossible.

What Is Surfboard Wax Made Of?

Most surfboard waxes on the market today are made using paraffin as a base. Paraffin is hard wax derived from hydrocarbon or oil. It is often mixed with beeswax, which is a flexible wax, that makes paraffin softer. The softening process continues with the addition of petroleum jelly, coconut oil, vegetable oil, tree resin, or other substances depending on the brand and the temperature of the water where the wax will be used.

Finally, substances that provide a pleasant scent are added to give the wax an attractive smell like coconut or bubblegum.

Different Types of Surfboard Wax

what does surfboard wax do

While there are several different types of surfboard wax out there, they can generally be classified in two ways: Basecoat wax and topcoat wax.

What Do Basecoat and Topcoat Surfboard Waxes Do?

Basecoat wax is the first layer of surfboard wax that you apply directly to the surface of your board. The basecoat is a hard layer of wax that is meant to hold the topcoat. The topcoat is a softer wax that is much stickier and that provides the actual traction. Because of its softness, topcoat surfboard wax washes away much faster which is why having a solid basecoat of wax is absolutely essential.

The topcoat is able to bind to the wax bumps created by the basecoat much better than it can bind to the actual fiberglass surface of a surfboard. If you apply a topcoat wax directly to the surface of your board it will wash away rather quickly which will leave you slipping and sliding all over your board.

Topcoat Waxes For Different Temperatures

  • Cold water surfboard wax. If you plan on surfing in temperatures 60 degrees or below then you will want to use a cold water surfboard wax. Naturally, cold water will harden a wax. Which means cold water wax is made with softer paraffin and is designed to stay soft even in the coldest temperatures. Keep in mind that cold water wax melts very quickly in warmer temperatures. Thus it will likely wash away quickly if it is used in warmer water. Also, make sure you store cold water wax in a cool place and out of direct sunlight so it doesn’t melt and make a mess.
  • Cool water surfboard wax. This type of wax is meant to be used when surfing in water that ranges from 60 to 68 degrees. Cool water surf wax contains paraffin with a much lower melting temperature and has more softeners that keep it sticky in cool water.
  • Warm water surfboard wax. These waxes are designed for water temperatures ranging from 68 to 78 degrees. Because of the warmer conditions, warm water waxes contain a harder paraffin which increases the temperature that makes them melt away. They also require fewer softeners and stickiness agents.
  • Tropical surfboard wax. This type of wax is made to use in water that is 75 degrees or higher. They are made using the hardest paraffin and are designed to withstand the heat. That means they won’t melt away in hot conditions or in direct sunlight.

Temperature Tip. It’s best to buy wax at the location you are going to surf because the shops will have waxes for the correct temperature. For instance, I live in Northern California and always use cold water surfboard wax. It wouldn’t make sense for me to bring my cold water wax to Costa Rica where the water is around 80 degrees. It is best for me to buy new tropical surfboard wax once I get to my destination. 

When To Apply

Some beginner surfers are under the notion that you need to clean and remove all the wax from your board and re-apply it every time you surf. That is a common misconception. Once you apply a solid basecoat to your board it should be good to use for several sessions. But before each session, check your topcoat. It will be necessary to add a thin layer of new topcoat wax every time you paddle out just to make sure you have enough grip and won’t be sliding around. 

When you feel your topcoat wax starting to wash away quickly and the surface becomes slippery while you’re out in the waves, it is probably a good indicator that you need to remove all the old wax and reapply a fresh basecoat and topcoat.

Find Your Favorite Brand

There are dozens of surfboard wax manufacturers out there and all of their products are a little different. If you are just starting out, it might be a good idea to try a few different brands. That way you can find one that you like the best. Even though they all essentially do the same thing, some of them feel better than others. I feel like some of them last longer as well. 

The shape of the wax also matters. Different brands come in different shapes and to me, some of them are harder to grip than others. Find the one that feels the best in your hands and that is the easiest to rub on your board.

Some surfboard waxes are more environmentally friendly than others. That might be especially important to you since you are using them in the sensitive ocean environment. If that is something you are concerned about, shop around to find a wax that uses the fewest derivatives of oil.

Now that you know what surfboard wax is all about, go make some bumps on your board and hit the waves!

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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